tv Hardball With Chris Matthews MSNBC May 26, 2017 4:00pm-5:01pm PDT
to say to his coming colleagues, look, i'm sorry. let's start off on a fresh foot here. >> caitlyn, jonathan, lynn, thank you all. and thank you all for watching. have a great holiday weekend, everybody. greta will be back next week. "hardball" with chris matthews starts right now. coming home to comey. let's play "hardball." good evening. i'm steve kornacki in for chris matthews tonight. donald trump is finishing up his first overseas trip as president. he's heading back to washington tomorrow and also back to the center of a gathering storm. the headlines shadowing him during the trip, the day president trump left washington. that was last friday. "the new york times" reported, he had told russian officials that firing fbi director james comey had taken pressure off him over the russian probe.
"the washington post" reported that investigators had identified a current white house official as a, quote, significant person of interest. then on monday, the post reported that trump had asked senior intelligence officials back in march to push back publicly against comey's comments on the investigation. on tuesday, former cia director john brennan testified that he saw intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between russian officials and trump campaign associates that warranted further investigation. then yesterday, nbc broke the news that jared kushner, that of course the president's son-in-law, was under fbi scrutiny according to nbc, quote, investigators believe kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry. that does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him. today, nbc's peter alexander reporting that the white house is preparing for a new reality when it comes to dealing with this widening investigation. officials are setting up a war room to address russia-related
issues. that effort will be led by steve bannon, reince priebus, and jared kushner. i'm joined by congressman gregory meeks of new york, politico's ken vogel, ruth marcus. thanks to all of you for joining us. congressman, let me start with you. you don't like what this administration -- what republicans in congress want to do on two major fronts legislatively. on health care, their replacement plan for obama care. on taxes, they want to do this big tax cut. let me ask you a practical political question. everything i just described that's played out over the last week, all the investigation into russia, what donald trump is walking back into from your standpoint as a democrat, is that going to prevent legislative activity this summer on those two fronts? >> i think he's just about -- his legislative activity is just about halted right now. number one, when you evaluate what the health care bill is, you know, the cbo just came out with its scoring. 23 million americans will be out
without health care. i don't think that the republicans really want to move forward with that, not the republicans in the senate. so i don't think they will have an agreement there, and i think then when it comes back, even if they have an agreement, the republicans in the house are going to be fighting one another again because many of them realize what devastating -- what a devastating and horrible bill that is. and then they can't do taxes because what the bill -- the health care bill really was, was a tax bill. >> right. you need the money from the health care to do that. but in terms of russia and in terms of this investigation, whether it's those two major fronts or anything else legislatively, does this stall the legislative process by itself? >> i don't think that the republicans will be able to get a bill done. the promises that donald trump made will not be kept. there will not be any job creation. there will not be an infrastructure. there will not be any significant bill that donald trump promised the american people that would help them will get passed in this first -- by september. >> ruth marcus, let me ask you
about that. if you're a republican on capitol hill, if you're paul ryan and last year on election night you looked up and you said, i'm going to be speaker of the house. we're going to have a republican majority in the senate, and we're going to have a republican in the white house who can sign our bills and you're now looking at donald trump coming back to washington with all this russia controversy around him. you haven't passed any major legislation yet. is there any path for republicans like paul ryan right now to accomplish anything legislatively with all of this russia stuff swirling in the air? >> it's a much harder path. they have -- the republicans in congress have an interest in getting things done. the health care bill is going to be really hard just because of the divisions between the house and senate and within the senate. that's going to be very hard lift. there may be a path to a kind of more contained, more restrained, maybe smaller tax bill that they could do. but the situation is that they
can't expect any help, any arm twisting, any real influence from president trump while he's embroiled in that stuff. so it's a kind of do it alone situation for congressional republicans. >> all right. and, ken vogel, the other piece of this, the news here, potentially at least a white house shake-up. these things have been rumored it seems since january 20th. now we hear about this idea maybe of a war room being created, of steve bannon -- bannon a couple weeks ago looked like he was on the outs. now i guess he's back in. does any of this reshuffling, any of this restructuring, the idea of a war room, does that really change anything for this white house? >> no, because trump is still trump, and you'll notice, steve, that things were relatively calm on the white house front these past nine days when trump was away. and there sure were bad stories that came out from the white house perspective on russia. but you didn't have the kind of self-inflicted wounds that come from trump's responding to this bad news or just trying to get
out front of it. ruth was talking about how difficult it is with the legislative agenda. i mean at every step, trump has already stepped all over these efforts from the very first rollout of the ahca, trump right before that tweeted about obama tapping his wires in trump tower, and that just stomped all over any momentum that the house would have been able to build. so now what you have is two countervailing impulses again. you have the professional staff and the lawyers trying to bring things under control to be able to answer back against the russia probe. a lot of folks lawyering up, including president trump. and then you have this other impulse, which has donald trump potentially bringing back in folks like corey lewandowski that he's comfortable with, loyalists, who are the exact antithesis of a careful, deliberative approach. so i don't see any drastic change just from any shake-up that might come. >> we are going to change gears right here because i've just been handed this. this is hot off the press. "the washington post," 7:01 p.m.
posting a story with the headline, russian ambassador told moscow that kushner wanted secret communications channel with kremlin. the idea here that kushner -- russia's ambassador to washington discussing the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between the trump transition team and the kremlin using russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their discussions from monitoring according to u.s. officials briefed on intelligence reports. that's from this report. again, "the washington post" just breaking this. ruth marcus, you're with "the washington post." i'm just trying to get up to speed. i've been handed this. tell our viewers what you know about this. >> well, from what i understand of the story, it's exactly as you said it, and it answers the question that has been out there since the reporting from yesterday or the day before. if jared kushner is a subject of investigation, what exactly is being investigated? it appears there is this
unusual-sounding request for some kind of back-channel communication with the russians during the transition. we don't know what happened. we don't know what the reasons were for that, but it certainly looks like something very unusual. and it kind of underscores the issue of how badly really the white house does need some kinds of damage control team there. but the way it's been described, you can't have some of the people who might have been contributing to the damage running the damage control team. so they're going to need to bring in a set of lawyers and a set of communications professionals whose sole and only job is to deal with the congressional investigation and the special counsel investigation and the press inquiries that are going to come. you sort of laid out how much they've been coming out this week even while the president is away, so that people like reince priebus and steve bannon and jared kushner can go about doing
all the other business that white houses are supposed to do. this latest "washington post" story is just another example of a really deepening headache, deepening problem for the white house, certainly political if not legal. >> just a few more details. again, i'm learning of this along with everybody else out there right now, but a few more details from this article, again breaking in "the washington post" right now, saying that on december 1st or 2nd -- again, this was in the transition period at trump tower. this is when ambassador kislyak, he reported to his superiors in moscow. they had a meeting at trump tower that day. jared kushner made this proposal. that meeting according to "the washington post" here was also attended by michael flynn. of course flynn went on to become briefly president trump's national security adviser. michael flynn now under investigation, the source of quite a bit of controversy on his own. the post also reporting here that the white house disclosed the fact of that december meeting in march and played down
its significance. reading from the article here, people familiar with the matter say the fbi now considers the encounter as well as another meeting kushner had with a russian banker to be of investigative interest. congressman, your reaction to what you're learning so far? >> well, it doesn't surprise me. the fbi, when they do their investigation, things come uncovered, and then they investigate. and, you know, when you see a president who allows the russians, the russian foreign minister, the russian ambassador, and he's telling them in the white house confidential and secret information and then goes on a trip, and he talks to individuals who are our allies in nato and says things that are insulting to them, that only helps russia. and then you see the individuals of whether it's flynn, whether it's the attorney general sessions, whether his son-in-law all with the surroundings of trying to deal with russia. he's not running from that. then there's something that is
there, and that's why i am glad we have a special prosecutor who will take his time and uncover and look at every piece of evidence and make a judgment as to what is or is not there. this doesn't surprise me, though, just by looking at all of the individuals that have surrounded trump and just what took place in the white house just a week ago. >> again, the headline here, russian ambassador told moscow that kushner wanted secret communications channel with the kremlin. and, ken vogel, also to read further in this article here, in terms of the motivation here, jared kushner according to the post here told the russians that this was a -- it would be politically sensitive if there were to be any kind of public meetings between the two sides. he wanted to be able to communication, i guess, candidly, i guess freely without the public learning of it. what is your read on this situation? >> yeah, i mean that certainly makes sense for his motivation. we don't have to look a whole lot further than what we're
talking about right now to see the political sensitivity of it. let's not forget these communications occurred through channels that were not secure, and that's the reason why we know about them, because the nsa and some of the officials who are in the u.s. intelligence community, who are monitoring russian communications between russian diplomats and officials with any number of people picked up some of these communications with trump folks, ended up leaking it out. maybe if jared kushner and kislyak had gotten their way and they had set up a secure method of communications, the nsa would not have been able to have gotten a hold of those communications, and we might not know that general flynn talked with ambassador kislyak about the sanctions before taking office. it's also important to point out here, as we have covered this along the way, that we're nthis not nestcessarily on its face
illegal provided they weren't trying to do diplomacy outside of the current administration, which at that point was president obama's. >> i mean, ruth, just thinking about this right now, this has been true, i think, with so many of the controversies and the revelations about this administration, especially as it relates to russia. you could, on the surface, provide a number of different interpretations here, some incredibly sinister and nefarious. you could say, hey, look, russia was trying to interfere with the election. they were trying to help donald trump. now here's the trump team in its transition trying to set up some sort of secret communication channel with them. maybe that suggests some kind of collusion. that would be the sinister interpretation. you could also say, hey, donald trump talked in the campaign about having closer relations with russia, a different kind of relationship with russia. the controversy over the election was in the air. maybe they just didn't want to have the public controversy over this. there's all the talk about business entanglements. there's so many different ways at least potentially to interpret stories like this. >> sure, and we are nowhere near
the -- we are still at the beginning of this story. to add to the potentially sinister things, we also know that jared kushner met with a russian state-owned bank around the same time. so is there a connection between those meetings or some financial ties between the kushner organization and russian banks? those are things that, you know, could be problematic, could be not problematic, but definitely need to be looked into. at the same time, you do have to ask given all of the stuff that was going on with complaints about russian involvement in the election, why would you do something that has the potential appearance of sinisterness? it's at the very least incredibly dumb. >> congressman? >> here's what we do know, because all of our investigative agencies, 17 of them, said russia did play a role in this election. that's a fact. and at the same time, we know
that then-candidate trump said russia, whatever you're doing -- he said it publicly. he didn't hide it. continue to do what you're doing. that's a fact. it is also a fact that flynn, sessions lied when they were filling out their applications to be classified, to get classified information. we know that sessions lied when he went before the senate confirmation committee. we know that they have tried to hide at every step any kind of dialogue and conversation they've had with russia. those are facts. that's not something that we have to guess at. and so it shouldn't surprise you when, again, as i said, what took place in the white house and when you look at the relationships that the president has with our nato allies, you know, one things that the russians want us to do is to separate nato and get rid of the eu, and it seems to be the president's agenda also. just connect the dots.
one and one does equal two. >> let's find out more about this again. this story just breaking in "the washington post." a report here that jared kushner during the presidential transition period suggested to russia that he wanted to set up a secret communications channel. adam entous, one of the reporters who reported this story. you see him there on the screen. adam, let me make sure on some of the details here. this communications channel was proposed by jared kushner. it never was set up, is that correct? and if so, why not? who nixed it? >> yeah, i mean frankly we're not entirely sure whatever happened to the idea. this is -- ambassador kislyak, the russian ambassador to the united states, he's at trump tower december 1st through december 2nd. and in that meeting, according to kislyak's account, which he relayed to moscow in which u.s. intelligence officials basically captured that account, you know, intercepted that account. basically what he said, that jared proposed opening this channel, creating this secret
channel. and jared actually proposed doing so at the russian embassy or at the russian consulate in new york, which is very strange. and kislyak was surprisesurpris. he was taken aback by that suggestion. >> when you say opening up a secret channel at the russian embassy in new york, how would that work? would people be going to the embassy to communicate? >> frankly, i don't know how they thought they would make this work. but i guess in theory, yes. somebody would have to go to the embassy and pick up the phone, and that would be a secure communication line. now, as i'm sure your viewers are aware, there are the white house, the state department, the cia. they all have secure communications systems, which the trump people could potentially use. so why they would be interested in doing so directly with the russians to bypass these established systems, that's quite bizarre and -- >> well, is there indication here that the motive or the
thinking there is to avoid exactly what we're seeing here, that it's being listened in, it's being monitored by u.s. intel that would then leak it? >> i think the only reason you would have that discussion is if you did not want it to be leaked and to be monitored by other intelligence services. that way you might have some assurance. obviously it would not have been, as we've seen now, these communications are being monitored even though they're supposedly secure. so, you know, clearly the u.s. intelligence committee has capabilities to reach into russian communications and get them obviously and make them transparent. but what the intentions were here, we don't really know. for example, we don't know what the discussion would have been had this communication line been established. it's not really clear. but if you put yourself in the shoes of the fbi agents who are investigating, we had a story yesterday that explained that the fbi's investigating jared kushner in connection with meetings he was having in december.
and so what we're doing today by explaining the contents at least according to the russian version of events of that meeting, i think could help explain what the fbi saw and what they were concerned about. >> yeah, that's the question. we have this very sort of neb y -- nebulous term that's been out there, the way they're report it. a person of interest, not a suspect. is your understanding, your reporting here, that there is a link there between the authorities' interest in jared kushner and what you're reporting tonight? >> yeah, i mean there's no question our sources told us that they're investigating jared kushner in connection to a series of contacts and exchanges he had in december in particular. and the meeting that we're talking about here today is the december 1st-december 2nd meeting, which is when kislyak comes up to new york, goes to trump tower. just to understand a little bit more about that meeting, we learned that it was kushner's staff that set up the meeting.
flynn was invited to attend, and he attended the meeting. you know, obviously we do not know -- we have not been given an accounting from the white house or from jared kushner's side about what they perceived as the contents of that meeting or what they remember about those contents. and the same goes for flynn. his attorney is declining to comment. >> are there legal issues involved here if they were to have set up the kind of communications line you're talking about? does this cross potentially into any legal territory? >> frankly, i don't know the answer to that. i would say that i think if we're trying to understand why would the fbi -- you know, obviously we know from james comey when he was the fbi director, they're investigating possible collaboration, possible coordination between the russians and their meddling and the trump campaign. and so, you know, in trying to
understand why would the fbi be interested in those meetings, i think what we're able to show tonight and what we're reporting tonight will help people understand a little bit better what the fbi was maybe interested in. >> and do you have any reporting here? do you have information about donald trump himself? any involvement in these conversations, any interest on his part? is he a player in this at all? >> i don't know the answer to that. i have no reason to believe that based on the conversations i've had. we're narrowly reporting tonight that basically we have information about what was discussed in that meeting and the kind of strange discussion that even kislyak himself was taken aback by. >> and it just seems this is a bigger sort of the backdrop to this, i guess, has been this ongoing -- i guess you can call it war between the trump administration and the
intelligence community. it seems here that just weeks into the transition, there's such a lack of trust in the intelligence community on the part of the trump team, that potentially they're looking to do something like this. >> yeah, i mean it's strange, especially when you consider that a couple weeks later, michael flynn, the designated national security adviser, talks to kislyak on an open line, which is intercepted because the fbi is monitoring kislyak. and so at moments you see a lot of attention to communications discipline, if you will. and at other moments, you see a sloppiness when it comes to communications discipline. so i'm not really sure, you know, which of those is dominating at all times, whether it's, you know, fear of being spied on or kind of a frankly a lack of attention the possibility they could be intercepted. >> we have congressman greg meeks here. i want to ask you about this. it seems there's a thread here that runs through so many of the
stories and so many of the controversies involving this administration both in the transition period and since january 20th. and on one side, you've got an administration that has deep, i guess you could say, lack of trust or antipathy towards the intelligence community, potentially manifesting itself in what we're seeing "the washington post" report tonight. on the other hand, you have an intelligence community. we prosecuare seeing leaks come that like never before. we are only in month three or four in this presidency. can this dynamic last for three or four years? >> i don't think we can. it endangers our country. that's why the mueller investigation is so important. it's also why i think we need an independent commission to look at what russia's involvement was during our election so that we can make sure we have systems in place to stop it, very similar to what we did with 9/11. we cannot sustain this. this cannot continue in that regard, in regards to our national security. you know, so the mueller
investigation is absolutely important. setting up an independent commission to look at this involvement is absolutely essential. that's the next step of which we need to do because we're not going to be able to move along or to continue in this manner. >> it is the friday night before a holiday weekend. this would traditionally be a dead period for news. we just gave you a big piece of breaking news from "the washington post." guess what, folks. i have another handed to me in the last few minutes. this also from "the washington post." thank you for the material tonight, "washington post." the headline here, the senate intelligence committee has now requested campaign documents from donald trump's campaign. this being reported by our friend robert costa. we have costa with us. let me just quickly tell you what he's reporting. he says the senate intelligence committee looking into this russia committee. they are asking for all documents, e-mails and phone records going back to june 2015. that is when the trump campaign launched. and we do, i believe, have robert costa with us. there he is in front of the
white house. robert costa, tell us more about your scoop here. >> there's a bipartisan probe that's been ongoing in the u.s. senate. they've been asking trump campaign associates for months to gather and produce documents. my news tonight is that the actual campaign committee, which is now the re-election campaign for president trump, it was formerly the 2016 committee. that political organization, the main political organization for the president of the united states has been formally asked to gather and produce all documents, phone records, e-mails from june 2015 when the campaign launched until inauguration day. >> and in terms of -- now, let's be clear because we have the fbi. we have the special prosecutor. this is the senate intelligence committee right now. there's also the house intelligence committee, and of course there was all sorts of chaos, controversy with that a few minutes ago. the senate investigations it seems much farther along than the house. is that fair to say? >> it is fair to say.
this letter that was sent to the trump campaign committee was signed by richard burr along with mark warner of virginia. they have a strong professional relationship as they work on this investigation, at least according to my reporting. so you do have two main investigations right now. it's the federal probe, which is now being led by the special counsel bob mueller that used to be called the fbi investigation. that's now the special counsel justice department investigation, which is really part of the fbi investigation, an extension of it, an evolution of it. then you have the senate probe, which is really now delving into documents. what did the trump campaign do in terms of any kind of association, relationship, or outreach to russian figures in 2016? that's why they're being asked to produce documents. >> you note in your article this marks the first time that trump campaign -- officials from his campaign structure have been drawn into the senate committee's ongoing investigation. on the flip side, your paper tonight also reporting about
jared kushner supposedly trying to set up a secret communications channel with the kremlin during the transition. jared kushner now in some way, we're not sure exactly which, but according to your reporting at "the washington post" as well, in some way has been drawn into this investigation, this special prosecutor's investigation into russia and the 2016 campaign. is there any reporting that you have tonight, any connection you're finding between what the senate is looking at and what your paper is reporting tonight in its other story? >> it's an important distinction. the person of interest when it comes to mr. kushner resolves around the federal probe, the special counsel. the senate committee is more broad. you have to think about the senate intelligence committee as a document gatherer, a group that also tries to bring people to capitol hill to testify. they're really the public aspect, the more public aspect of these investigations. and it's different than what the intelligence community, what the federal government is doing in terms of the non-political side
of the investigation. but still, both important parts of this whole process. >> let's bring in ken dilanian, nbc news investigative reporter now. he joins us i believe on phone. ken, thank you for taking a few minutes. now, yesterday you reported for us here at nbc about jared kushner emerging as a person of interest in this investigation. now we have this "washington post" story tonight about jared kushner during the transition supposedly trying to set up a secret communications channel with moscow. what more can you add to this? >> steve, i really think this "washington post" story tonight is a game-changer. it is a devastating story because it casts these russian meetings in a new light. it suggests that jared kushner and potentially the trump transition was trying to disguise its communications with russia. until now, we had no real evidence of that. we had evidence that, you know, they neglected to report, but they always had a story about why that was. well, now we have, according to this reporting, you know, an
active effort apparently to avoid detection, to have a secret channel. and let me just, you know, offer some context for our viewers. i mean russia is an adversary of the united states, an espionage adversary. anyone around the intelligence community and around the fbi who had been advising the trump campaign knows that. and they know american officials have to be very careful about any contacts with the russians because the russians are constantly throwing people, trying to recruit americans, trying to compromise americans. as john brennan testified to congress, the former cia director last week, they co-opt people unwittingly to their ends because they are trying to gain information and gain access to the united states, in this case to the future trump presidency. and so the idea -- so as the post story said, it's either break taking naivete on the part of kushner and the trump transition or something else. i guess that's what the investigation going forward is going to have to determine.
>> what do we know legally here? i don't remember this issue ever coming up before. but do we know if there was an effort here during the transition by jared kushner, by people in donald trump's orbit, to set up some kind of communications channel that would evade surveillance by u.s. intelligence, if there was an intention intentional, conscious effort to do that, is that illegal? >> you know, i'm not a lawyer. i wouldn't think it would be. i mean certainly like to reporters right now in this climate, many of us are taking steps to encrypt our communications with sources. there's nothing illegal about that. the question is why would they be doing that? that's the next step, you know, veering into the potential ill legality, is what are they trying to disguise from u.s. surveillance or from any kind of eaves dropping? >> all right. we also have a story. we've got some breaking news just scrambling a bit. we also have joining us on the
set, katherine rampell and nick confessore. let me ask both of you, and nick, i'll start with you. what do you make of this? >> it's a bombshell, all right. it goes to the different perspective that the trump family and the kushner family had about russia when they came in. from their perspective, in their world, the russians were deal partners, friends, people who put money into their projects. so to put your head to where their head was at, i can sort of understand why he might have made what is obviously a catastrophic and terrible mistake from a security perspective. if you come from the place where these people are our deal partners, we deal with them all the time, have contact with them in russia, i've been to russia. but at the same time, it's totally bone-headed to do this. >> katherine, for anybody out there who has believed that where there's smoke, there's fire, and this is going to lead to some sort of grand collusion that will be revealed, certainly this will be a piece of
evidence. this will be a data point that they would point to. but as i was saying earlier, and as nick is sort of getting at there, as seems always the case with trump, there are a number of possible interpretations available here. >> there are lots of possible innocent interpretations, but they have to have known that the optics of something like this, if it were to come out -- i mean clearly they did not intend for it to come out. >> it is all about optics. >> the optics of this are just terrible, particularly since throughout the campaign, the transition, and now the presidency, you know, there are lots of questions being raised about the relationship that trump and the people in his orbit had the russians. so why would you try to -- you know, why would you even consider adding more fuel to that fire? that is what's mind-boggling. and to add to what nick was saying, you know, nick mentioned that this reveals the nature of the -- or the nature of the sort of warmer feelings towards the russians, but it also reveals the nature of their cooler feelings towards the
intelligence community. >> i mean, look, if the intent here -- if the suspicion on the part of jared kushner and the trump folks was, hey, look, we need to set this thing up because u.s. intel is going to snoop in on this stuff and then it's going to get leaked out and it's going to look bad, that's also apparently what happened. >> exactly. look, until now we have thought that we've had evidence of the russians seeking communications with the incoming trump administration. so a lot of attention was focused on the russian ambassador having these meetings. this puts it in a bit of a different spin. this is the campaign seeking opportunities or the incoming administration seeking opportunities with the russians. at the post story points out at the end, they eventually got this meeting. this equally weird meeting in the seychelles with erik prince and a person coming from putin's government. so the question mark is what were they discussing, and why all this effort to come up with these ways to meet outside the usual diplomatic channels?
>> we still have ruth marcus and ken vogel with us down there in washington. ruth, let me bring you in on this too. i just -- we have the seychelles now. we have the fbi, the special prosecutor investigation. we have the senate committee subpoenaing these campaign records. we have the report about jared kushner. can you keep up with all of this? >> well, i'm doing as best as i can. i think we're all kind of reeling from this. a couple points. one other thing that we know is that jared kushner did not apparently report these meetings on the forms that he needed to fill out to get his security clearances. so that was potentially sloppiness, or it was potentially more. it does suggest if you're an investigative type, a desire not to make this public, and the "post" story tonight adds to the explanation for why you wouldn't
want this to be public. one question that i think is going to be really important and really front and center is what did the president know about these efforts? did michael flynn tell him? did jared kushner, who spends an enormous amount of time close to the then president-elect and now president, did he tell him about this? and how does the white house handle a situation where there are these very potentially damaging reports about somebody who is not only a very close adviser to the president, but also his son-in-law? and you can't exactly fire the son-in-law, certainly not from being the son-in-law. so it's a very, very difficult situation for the white house. >> ken, when we came on the air before we got these two stories we were talking about, i think the first question i asked you was about this supposed shake-up that might be coming in the white house with jared kushner taking point in this so-called war room they might set up. we spent the last 20 minutes talking about this secret communications channel. >> it certainly makes it more difficult. it's harder for them. you know, one of the approaches
that they've taken when it comes to folks like paul manafort or carter page, who are substantively, actual targets, not just people of interest, but targets of this investigation, they say -- they try to minimize the role. manafort played a limited role for a limited amount of time. whether you believe that or not -- i tend not to -- but you can't use that excuse with jared kushner. now, as to this bigger point about, like, the range of explanations for this, i find almost every time when you're looking for an explanation for something that seems otherwise inexplicable from the trump folks and at one end of the spectrum you have sinister, deviousness, and at the other hand you have ham handed clumsiness, it's almost always close tore ham handed clumsiness. here, there was a deep suspicion of the intelligence community from folks within the trump orbit. that comes to a great degree from mike flynn, who had really taken a stand against the cia
while he was at the dia and sort of taken a stand against the broader u.s. intelligence community. you saw that, and my sources in the intelligence community saw that trickling through to trump's own rhetoric, that trump would say things like the so-called intelligence community, that trump would call them out over their intelligence in the run-up to the iraq war over weapons of mass destruction. then as a result, that enmity was sort of directed back towards trump from the intelligence community. you could see why flynn or maybe even kushner would possibly want to set up a channel of communication that would not be subject to the prying ears or eyes of the u.s. intelligence community. >> katherine, that's the thing. they were penned in in a way, donald trump was since he won the election. because you got to say as a candidate, he did talk about having a closer relationship with russia. it was a source of criticism from a lot of people, the fact that he said putin is a strong leader. putin would respect me. i want to join them in fighting isis. so he was talking publicly about having a very different kind of
relationship with russia at the same time when he won in the climate of, hey, russia just meddled in the election. russia was trying to help trump. they were trying to hurt clinton. it was probably going to be very difficult to execute that kind of policy pivot without having it look like, hey, he's rewarding the people who helped him. >> yes, the timing was peculiar to say the least. sure, he wants to have a more -- a less antagonistic, shall we say, relationship with russia right after the election when he's refusing to acknowledge the interference that russia played in the election and the role that played potentially in helping him capture the presidency. that's probably not the best timing. he knew he had at least four years ahead when he was in the white house, when he could make, you know, more formal diplomatic overtures to the russians, not under this sort of cloak and dagger type of setting, not through these back channels, without needing to take the back channels. i mean why not wait at the very least until he actually had the
power of the presidency to try to pivot on foreign policy? why do it this way? >> and, nick, something ken was saying there really resonated with me because i've been noticing it too. when you have those sort of conflicting interpretations, sort of ham-handed incompetence, if you can call it that, with this administration, you could point to that in a lot of these cases. >> yeah. i mean stupid is always an easy explanation for anything in politics. and there's often a lot more stupidity than malice in politics. but ken makes a good point. it's possible that this kind of emanates from a true distrust that mike flynn had a part in spreading of the conventional intelligence apparatus on this campaign, that they believe that somehow if they had this conversation in a more open way, the obama guys would be out to get them or somehow jam on them. i don't know. but for a guy who is super smart and the boy wonder in this administration, this is very bad news. and as regards any kind of a shake-up in the administration, if you thought that the kushner forces are going to come to the fore now and push aside the
forces, it seems like that is probably not going to happen quickly. >> we've still got ken dilanian on the phone. ken, one more question to you. bigger picture here. we're in month four here of the trump presidency, and this pattern has been there of distrust on the trump circle's part when it comes to the intel committee and all of these stories. apparently the intel committee, leaks coming from the intel committee. i mean is this our reality for the next four years of this administration? >> steve, i was thinking about this story and this leak. this leak is a very damaging leak for the united states intelligence community because it exposes that we, the u.s. was monitoring the communications of the russian ambassador sergey kislyak back to moscow. now, we can all assume that that's going on. but this shows conclusively to the russians that we're doing that, and you can bet they've changed their communication method. but what's striking to me is
whoever leaked this to the post -- and don't forget, the post said they got an anonymous letter and have taken this long to confirm it. whoever leaked it and confirmed it thought the benefits of exposing this conduct to the public outweighed the damage of, you know, exposing this eaves dropping capability of the united states against the russians. and i just find that remarkable. it fits with a pattern that we've seen of really incredible leaks coming out of the oval office, whether it's the trump conversation with lavrov, you know, revealing intelligence about isis, or if you think back a few weeks, that conversation with the australian prime minister that was embarrassing. i mean we haven't seen leaks like this before, and it's just -- you know, apparently there are public servants who are just so upset with some of the conduct they're seeing in this white house, that they're feeling compelled to speak out. >> nbc's ken dilanian joining us by phone. thank you for taking a few minutes. bringing in now msnbc's chief legal correspondent ari melber. i thought he was on the phone. we got him in person.
thanks for taking a few minutes. >> of course. >> the legal question we've been asking here, if this is true, if donald trump and his son-in-law, jared kushner, during the transition tried to set up this secret communications channel to have conversations that would evade capture by u.s. intelligence, are there legal issues involved with doing that? >> there are certainly potential legal issues as you and i both know from reporting these stories. there is much yet we don't know although this is certainly concerning information. the potential legal issues, steve, would include the logan act, which people may remember is a very obscure law that has never been formally used by the doj but is good federal law. maybe it's never been used because rarely does it come up. it deals with criminalizing potential private party efforts to subvert u.s. foreign policy. that is to say, a private citizen working with foreign adversaries or foreign agents or actors in a manner that undermines the u.s. now, you'd have a lot more legal work to do, of course, to dig in
and figure out whether this, a, involved more than a proposal, more than a discussion, but some sort of action or conduct and, b, what was the ultimate goal? is it net positive legally that jared kushner was an incoming administration person although, again, let's remember he's not formally a federal government cabinet member. he's in there quasi unpaid position. the government could argue he was going to ultimately be the u.s. official representative, but at that point he may not have been. other legal issues would depend, of course, on the $64,000 question, whether there's some other illicit activity. so alone, a clumsy effort to try to do secret communications out of apparently the russian embassy might just be a really bad idea, not illegal. but that plus something else plus some other financial issue or what not could actually go to making a case, steve. so it depends on what else is out there. >> and, again, because we're talking about, according to this reporting, this idea was drawn
up during the transition. so it sounds like you're saying the definition of what jared kushner sort of counted as is a little up in the air because they're about to take office. he's about to have a government role, but he doesn't technically have one yet. and there's legal implications to that? >> yeah, there could be because he doesn't have the government role, and we only have one president at a time, and we only have one administration at a time. i think the larger question separate from that is also why -- and this is something investigators look at, and this is not hypothetical because you have a special counsel involved, and you have jared kushner under, as nbc news has reported, a type of fbi scrutiny, not any assumption of wrongdoing, but a scrutiny. so the bigger investigative question here that i know a lot of journalists are working on is why? why did you want to go to such extraordinary lengths to have secret contact? is that because you were paranoid? maybe you're a paranoid person, and you just don't believe and nick confessore was referring to this, you don't believe that the u.s. government and the career diplomats will be honest brokers. so you propose something. maybe that's the only reason.
and while that's questionable, there's nothing illegal about that. or does it go to your mental state? does it show some other illicit activity? i think the other piece to this is -- and, again, we're just processing a lot of great reporting being done by our colleagues here at "the washington post" and elsewhere, including our own investigative team. but as we digest all this, steve, i think the other obvious question is, was this a paranoia that attached equally across foreign diplomacy and thus was maybe weird but uniform, or was this something explicit to russia, okay? if there wasn't any conversations about a brazil back channel or a canada back channel, but it was only russia, again, investigators are going to say why? why this obsession here? this is a country accused by our intelligence agencies of meddling in the election. this is a country from a counterintel perspective was confirmed by james comey when he was fbi director to be the subject of an inquiry. so why this? is it a coincidence, or as investigators look for more than a coincidence, is there something more there? >> ken vogel, it looked like you had a point you were trying to
make. go ahead. >> certainly. i mean, you know, the motivation for having a secret channel of communication, clearly, you know, there's a paranoia. maybe there's a desire to have a discussion about something that occurred previously. this is where we get into the conversations about a possible cover-up. this is why what robert costa broke about the senate actually subpoenaing documents from the trump campaign is so pivotal because it gets to the actual meat. what occurred during the campaign? there has been reporting suggesting that there were efforts by the campaign to spread fake news or other information that was produced by or somehow in cooperation with russia. once you get into that sort of line of inquiry, you're looking at the possibility of spending by foreign entities in u.s. and being able to show that russia or russia-aligned agents spent money to attempt to influence the u.s. election. that gets into another potential legal violation of the federal
election campaign act. we reported this week that the federal election commission is, in fact, investigating a complaint that alleges just that. it is yet another sort of legal wrinkle or legal avenue for both the doj, the senate and house intelligence committees, and then even possibly the federal election commission to pursue. >> let me go back to ari if he's still with us here. >> yeah. >> so ken just raises an interesting point here about how these things seem to go. when you have investigations, when you have leaks, when you have all of this reporting we're seeing, it seems like there's new tentacles that sort of emerge every day. now you have this special prosecutor who is looking into this, bob mueller. do we have a sense between bob mueller's investigation, between the senate intelligence committee, we've got the news tonight that they want all these documents from the trump campaign. do we have a sense of the timetable on something like this? is this a timetable that just with every revelation is going to just spread out and expand further and further? when do you think we get answers? >> well, i think your hunch and
the audience's likely feeling is somewhere in the ballpark. this feels like it's accelerating because it appears to be accelerating. and so the senate intel folks, on a bipartisan basis, have reached a point where they're not cherry picking or hand picking -- i don't mean that term with any significance, but they're not looking at just individual people anymore. they're saying the trump organization campaign as an entity needed to be searched. that again shows an acceleration. steve, when you go to how investigations work, that means you could be pulling multiple people's e-mail accounts, right? it doesn't take that sophisticated an operation even though they're talking about staffing up to put in certain terms like russia or kislyak now into a wider circle of aides. maybe you find nothing. maybe that's good for the trump campaign. they say actually it was just a couple of people that are witnesses or subjects, or maybe you find more. it's very hard to get a window into what the fbi is doing. we've seen leaks of little slices here, but we don't have any kind of, i don't think, any clear public signs of how
mueller is going to approach this or any changes he's made. but we certainly have acceleration. >> again, if you're just joining us, we came on at the top of the hour thinking, well, it's the friday night before memorial day. most people are already on their way to vacation. we'll just coast through the next hour. instead we have breaking news here, two breaking news stories that we are still digesting. the first one, this from "the washington post." it broke within the last hour. a report that jared kushner, donald trump's son-in-law, one of his top advisers in the white house, that he tried to create -- that he wanted to create a secret communications channel with moscow, with the kremlin, that he proposed this back in december. that was during the presidential transition. that he supposedly, according to their reporting here, that he proposed this idea in a meeting with the russian ambassador on december 1st or december 2nd in trump tower. again, that was between donald trump's election as president in november and his inauguration in january. we also have the news being reported by robert costa in "the washington post" that the senate
intelligence committee is leading an investigation -- one of the investigations into russian involvement in the campaign, that they have now requested a range of documents from the trump campaign dating all the way back to june of 2015. that is when donald trump announced his presidential candidacy. so those are the two things we are absorbing, we are digesting, we are trying to interpret. let me go back to ruth marcus here with "the washington post" down in washington. ruth, in terms of why jared kushner would have wanted a secret communications channel, why the idea of having communications with the russians would be something he wouldn't want anybody knowing about, again, you could say the sinister motive. hey, there was collusion going on here. there was some sort of communication, illicit communication that he didn't want getting out there. you could say that's an interpretation. i guess you could also look at it, though, and say, hey, russia, in december -- on december 1st and december 2nd, the idea of talking to russia, that was a very risque thing politically just given the news,
given the climate. maybe he just didn't want that being out there for that reason. >> well, maybe, and as a general matter, i'm actually a really big believer in the pervasiveness of stupidity. so the bumbling naivete explanation is often pretty persuasive to me. but in this situation, i think we have to layer in some other things that we know. we know that michael flynn did not tell the truth about his contacts with sergey kislyak. he didn't tell the truth to vice president pence and to others in the trump white house. we know that jared kushner, as i said before, did not disclose these contacts. so when you have, you know, all of this again, it might just be flynn forgot what he talked about. it slipped kushner's mind. when you have an accumulation of things that look problematic, that suggests more likelihood of a problem. and so my usual kind of belief
that people are unorganized enough to be in a conspiracy -- i don't mean a legal conspiracy, i mean just kind of getting it together. i have to say my sense of worry and cynicism is kind of up here because of this accumulation of evidence. we're always told this meeting was nothing. it was no big deal. nothing of substance was discussed. it was just to say happy holidays, have a nice new year. none of that has turned out to be true. >> got some reinforcements here at the roundtable here. we've got ozzie pay ber a senior reporter with politico. michelle goldberg, evan sigfried, a republican strategist, author of gop gps. let's just pick up on what ruth marcus was just saying. she's saying you just got too many data points here for the explanation to also come back that it was this sloppiness. it was incompetence. it was, oh, we didn't know. what do you make of that?
>> first of all, ruth was absolutely wrong. i actually give my seasons greetings from a secure information room. >> i'm sorry. >> as a republican, i put country first above party, and this is just another thing from the drip, drip, drip of everything that's coming out about the president and russia. and what has been going on, and it appears he might have obstructed justice. we now know the white house counsel was told on two separate occasions that general flynn was compromised by russian intelligence, by flynn himself even. and the counsel was -- we don't know what he did with that, and he still is white house counsel. so it leads to the question of what did the president know, and when did he know it? these are questions that have to be answered because look at the turmoil it's creating here in the united states. now we are seen as more of a joke on the world stage. angela merkel is called the leader of the free world and the u.s. has lost all moral authority that we need. >> if there's anybody in the world who's capable of engaging
in and masterminding a massive cover-up without an actual crime, it's donald trump. is that giving him too much credit? >> yes. i don't think donald trump is capable of masterminding anything. but i think that the important thing, it seems to me, is let's remember one of the reasons why flynn was fired and why he came to sally yates' attention in the first place. it was because he had lied to the vice president, and they knew -- and the russians knew that he lied, and that compromised him. if this story is true, the russians have also known that jared kushner engaged in this conduct, whatever the kind of underlying reason he wanted this secure line open. the fact that he did this was highly compromising, which also gives the russians leverage over jared kushner. whatever he -- even if these communications were as innocent as you can imagine, which seems unlikely. and so, you know, right now democrats are saying that at the very least, his security clearance needs to be revoked pending this investigation. i don't see how he can keep it after this bombshell. >> that's a very interesting
question, ozzie, because before we got this breaking news about 45 minutes ago, we were talking about another report in "the wall street journal" today that suggested jared kushner was about to take lead on this war room effort in the white house house. he's got the comey testimony coming up. the white house wants to be better prepared for communications, and there's jared kushner with steve bannon and reince priebus going to lead that. what michelle is saying, are there going to be immediate consequences in terms of jared kushner's role in the white house? is this a president that when confronted with this says, i don't care, full steam ahead? >> he hasn't shown an interest in embracing this or even acknowledging that there was a problem. if there's one person in the white house he trusts, it's jared kushner. you could make the argument, you could imagine that jared kushner, whose portfolio is almost comically large, adding there to his plate is a natural
extension of what donald trump probably would have done anyway. now, the idea of him not having any government experience and reaching out to foreign leaders and saying, let's have a private communication, it really shows the lack of experience and what damage it could cause to an incoming administration. this is a person who never worked in government, who, you any, sort of got brought into the campaign as it was sort of bumbling along. to want a private communication, you know, with the russians while you have this story line happening in the backdrop of the 2016 campaign, it's head-scratching, and it's naivete to almost a lethal level. >> naivete at best because the other explanation is it was worth the risk because they had substantial secrets. >> evan, what do we know about inside the trump white house? if donald trump turns to jared kushner for advice and trusts him, if donald trump turns to his daughter, ivanka, who is married to jared kushner, for advice and trusts them, who does he turn to? who does he lean on when jared kushner is the one who is jammed
up? >> he leads on jared kushner. this is a president who digs in in the face of controversy, be it in his businesses or on the campaign and now in the white house. we're seeing that the white house is going to become smaller and smaller, and the only people who can get through to them are the people who are now being fingered as persons of interest in these investigations. i think we're missing something that is really scary here, which is the national security impact of the revelations of all of the conduct between trump and russia in that we are seeing that now our intelligence community is questioning whether or not they should withhold certain bits of information from their reports because it could jeopardize sources. and our allies are now questioning whether or not we should be sharing intelligence because they don't know if we can trust the united states president. never before have our strongest allies like israel and britain had that question in their mind. they could trust a republican or a democrat. and this is very serious. >> well, and the other aspect of this too, the roots of this apparently, according to this
story, are, hey, jared kushner, maybe the folks around him were looking at it and saying we don't trust the intel community in the united states. we think if we had conversations with russia, intel is going to pick it up, they're going to leak it out. we've got to get around that. of course it did get to the intel community, and it did get out. so it is what they feared, but this is also example number 4,700 i think since donald trump became president of that dynamic playing out. and, again, we're only a few months in. can we do four years of this kind of almost just transparent leaking? >> no. i mean donald trump's complains about the quote, unquote, deep state in the intelligence community is giving his supporters an explanation for what is happening. he criticizes part of the federal government and look at them. they're coming after him. this fits right into the mold of donald trump's entire, you know, campaign and reason for being, which is that there's something wrong in washington. let me go there and break it up. and every time something comes up, he -- whenever there's a
controversy, he points to it as evidence of what he's been doing and why he's been sent to washington. >> in terms of washington and the agenda that he came to power with, that republicans are going to push this summer, health care, taxes, can any of that be done with this in the background? >> i mean hopefully not. you know, that's the kind of -- as much as this is a national crisis, a crisis of legitimacy, as much as america is now a laughingstock before the world, i think one of the silver linings of this administration being bogged down in such crisis is that their very sinister and destructive agenda will at least be stalled. >> we are coming to the end of this very busy and commercial-free hour. hope you appreciated that part of breaking news. from "the washington post," a blockbuster report tonight. they are reporting that in december during the presidential transition, jared kushner, donald trump's son-in-law, one of his top advisers in the white house now, sought to create a secret communications channel with the kremlin, that that
proposal was made to the russian ambassador in trump tower back in december. apparently it didn't actually get created, but it was proposed back then. we are now learning about it through "the washington post" tonight. a very busy hour. our cast of thousands for this hour, thanks everybody for joining us. happy memorial day weekend. obviously we will follow all of this throughout the evening on msnbc. "all in" with chris hayes starts right now. good evening from new york. i'm chris hayes, and we once again have breaking news tonight about the trump campaign and russia, and it is a doozy. "the washington post" citing u.s. officials briefed on intelligence reports reporting that jared kushner and russia's ambassador to washington, sergey kislyak, discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between trump's transition team and the kremlin using russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move